Decided to start from the beginning. Ah.
A very good little tale.
1. Some population thousands of years from now stumbles upon the waste and a small minority may die from exposure/contamination
2. Containment breach occurs due to degradation or earthquake or some other destructive event and some minimally radioactive waste leaks out of the containment site.
Are either of these serious concerns with respect to the benefit of nuclear power? If disposal occurs somewhere deep in the continental U.S., are there even any actors powerful enough to commandeer the waste for nefarious purposes? What am I missing?
Here in Nevada a lot of us don't care about the waste that is all ready stored in Yuca Mountain. The Native Americans do, but that's another issue.
Many of us worry about how the waste is transported there, on large trucks, just recently on I-15 which goes directly through the center of downtown Las Vegas. Especially because its done in secret so there are no extra protections around the trucks carrying that waste.
4. Proper Payment (Not a risk, but still an issue)
Many of us would also be ok with keeping the waste in our backyard, but whenever there is an unevenly distributed danger or burden it is proper to reimburse the communities most effected, which isn't really happening.
Nevada as a state has either the worst public schools in the country or sometimes we get up to 48th place, depending on the year. A few million for our public schools in exchange for being the nuclear waste disposal site for the country seems like a fair trade.
This is why salt formations are ideal. The existence of the formation is proof that water isn't leaving the area and hasn't been leaving the area even on geological time scales.
Experience teaches that anytime we can't see the risks of a technological solution, it's not because there aren't any. But because we can't see them.
Or BSE (mad-cow disease; at the time, the UK minister of agriculture, John Gummer, publicly fed his daughter a beef burger to show there was no danger from consumption of Brittish beef) though that one is not a technological solution, as such; but it's a well-known case were risk was underestimated.
> I don't understand why nuclear waste disposal is so controversial.
You answered yourself.
> What am I missing?
A functioning conscience.
This really comes off as a minor issue considering the huge ratio of benefit to cost.
You really don't understand how that's controversial?
The car exec is pinching pennies to buy a yacht. I'm talking about switching to nuclear power to save potentially millions of lives with a marginal risk to a small number of people in the future.
It's like the infamous train problem, where you must choose between one life or multiple lives. Except in this case it's quite unlikely that future lives will be significantly impacted by nuclear waste.
To simplify further, you have 3 options:
1. Do nothing and allow continued fossil fuel related deaths and the likely progress of climate change
2. Ignore nuclear, bet on renewables, which have their own cost and may not come online quickly enough to avert global crisis.
3. Switch to nuclear yesterday, save millions (or billions) of lives from climate change and pollution, with a tiny risk to some future civilization.
Yes, the executive and I are both thinking "coldly", but the difference is that he is optimizing for pennies, whereas I am optimizing for lives and environment.
I don't want to argue with you, what you're saying just sounds like rationalization to me. If you don't see the grotesque arrogance of poisoning the only known biosphere in the Universe, well, "I can't even...", as the kids say.
Here, imagine that Dr. Who (I know that's not his name) picks you up in his TARDIS and takes to the bedside of one of the people dying of radiation poisoning, can you explain to that person how you were just "optimizing"?
- - - -
> Every time you get in your car, you take the risk of causing a fatality to another driver or pedestrian. Have you sworn to walk everywhere?
I actually don't drive, and for exactly that reason: I learned as a child how many people are killed every year by car collisions and I was so horrified that I vowed never to drive a car, and I haven't. (Technically, I did have a camper van a little bit, as part of a plan to buy some land and camp there while building a house. It was a violation of my vow but I allowed for it as I wasn't going to use it on the road except to get to the land. Other than that, I've kept my vow.)
Our traffic system is an insane "mayhem lottery" that we force everyone to play whether they like it or not.
> switching to nuclear power to save potentially millions of lives with a marginal risk
Yeah, or we could just reduce our power consumption and increase our energy efficiency.
A) It's cheaper than building a Yucca Mountain
B) It can be built faster than Yucca Mountain, enabling it to actually be finished before it can be defunded or protested out of existence.
Most power generating reactors don't generate much waste relatively speaking... the bulk of the waste that exists is from nuclear weapons. So there's a need for waste disposal, but it's not as bad a problem as many people seem to think.
On top of that, newer reactor designs produce less waste, so in the future there may be even less of a need.
Except, both of these things have already occurred:
I expect it'll still be necessary to put the hole somewhere there aren't hundreds of people protesting oil pipelines, but that's a topic for the future.
This re-occured a couple more times. The UP never returned.
* We can easily take the containers out again, if we find a better way to dispose or (re)use the garbage
* We can update the containers if new technologies allow better ones
* We can check that the containers are still sealed
* We do not forget about the garbage, so the chance that someone in the future is hurt by accidentally digging into it is minimized
- End-of-life storage requires re-storage regardless of whether better technologies exist
- Spillage is more likely to occur due to more frequent handling/repackaging/relocation
- Workers are exposed to greater danger due to more frequent handling/repacking/relocation
- Overhead is greater since there will likely be a greater number of short term than long term storage facilities
- Accidents are more likely and more spread out over a larger area (assumption: short term storage requires more space than long term storage)
Every time you move this stuff there's a chance for a vehicular accident or just a storage breach due to human and/or manufacturing error.
Whatever happened to vitrification as a solution for some classes of nuclear waste? That was the story for one hot second and I haven't heard about it since.
But, humans being humans, some will start dumping illegally.
They have solved a lot of these issues.
We already have ways to reuse the garbage. No new science required.
What we need is to lift the ban on breeder reactors and other modern designs.
And I don't really get too much comfort from statements like "studies ... showed no real negative effects". I still imagine mutant lizards emerging from the ocean in the future with frazers killing off all humanity.
 lizard tech, don't ask
It seems like the amount of water in the ocean is so vast, that the quantities of nuclear waste dumped into it will not create a nuclear ocean, but I’m just speculating here.
Scary nuclear incidents to me are Cuban Missile Crisis, Able Archer 83, Stanislav Petrov incident, and the Norwegian rocket incident. Early nuclear era ocean dumping that isn’t being continued isn’t exactly an existential threat.
> Early nuclear era ocean dumping that isn’t being continued isn’t exactly an existential threat.
I'm more worried because the mentality that lead to this doesn't seem to have changed whatsoever. The moment something is proven to be a dumb idea, people move on to the next best thing with the exactly same attitude of "We don't know it's bad, so let's just go with it"
I think the current attitude of "new technology will solve this" is an example of this mentality. Examples readily available in this thread.
Not necessarily scary as "ow my god we are going to all die" sence.
There is a fusion reactor in the sky. It's maintenance-free and so powerful that it can burn out your retinas from a hundred and fifty giga-meters away.
If there will be any fissure in the steel container, then the water we put on top for sure will get there and in the end, that hot contaminated water will raise at the top of water column.
Both the state governments of Nevada and New Mexico have pushed back on long term storage plans, and the federal government appears to have no current solution.
In 2010, there was an estimated 250,000 tons of nuclear waste . The oceans naturally have 4 billion tons of uranium . It seems to me that even the very dumb solution of scattering our nuclear waste across the oceans would have a negligible environmental impact compared to other destructive activities.
Sure it would be nice if we could have infinite solar power but until then, nuclear is far cleaner and safer than anything else we have today.
Then on top of that, I even moreso don't believe we can build a stable society long enough to oversee and manage long term waste. We can't figure out how to handle two-generation problems well yet, taking the risk on a 10 generation problem seems to just completely fail to address reality.
If, however, this is contingent upon a space elevator, I wouldn't give it much thought at this time.
If a well designed, low yield nuclear reactor can't be launched then firing random waste into space will surely draw many more protestors.
Also I'm often surprised by the volume of waste we're talking about here. Under this umbrella you have not only fuel rods but also contaminated materials (eg, building materials, soil), and the launch costs per pound are very, very high.
I think I heard at one point someone was trying to work out if they could safely evaporate water (heat of vaporization of water being much lower than most isotopes?) and just store the residuals but even that got pushback. Hanford, if memory serves, has a rather substantial volume of liquid waste to deal with, and some of the containment vessels are past their expected lifespan.
From the numbers I can find, the delta-v to achieve escape velocity from the Earth is just over half the delta-v needed to crash into the Sun. To "get rid" of something you need a big rocket. To get rid of it forever, the rocket equation means you need a rocket many times bigger to go 90% faster.
This seems like a pretty solid option considering the costs / possible downsides of trying to "construct" something with similar levels of protection.
EDIT: Just guessing though, I'm no expert by any means
Analogy: every time I cook using aluminum foil, I cringe at throwing out a usable wad of the metal solely because there's some charred food waste on it, when I presume near-future tech will easily reclaim this useful element. Would be nice to have something between "trash" and "recycling" - pre-sorting junk so that future people have a not-unmanageable repository of materials they can work with even though we can't.
Likewise nuclear "waste" - it's still active material, generating energy, just needing a few more years/decades before we can use it. Even today we have (or soon will) reactors which "eat" waste from older designs. Put what we have in stable long-term containers, and making odds on when it can be used.
It's questionable storing all this for later would be more efficient, even with higher purity, than just raffine it from rocks at industrial scale.
The amount of realy useless & dangerous is very small. Separating it from the rest is the issue, both economical & political.
Still seems like a better option to solve than trying to find a mythical ideal permanent storage place.
See wikipedia pages and references for work on this:
Long-time nuclear waste warning messages:
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant - Warning messages for future humans:
Also, examples of proposed hostile architecture here:
And the full permanent markers implementation plan, here:
"Oil Drilling into a Salt Dome: Catastrophic Failure: Evidence Lake Peigneur 1980 Disaster BP"
This is why fracking is associated with earthquakes. Salt mining has a long and well-documented history of damaging subsurface and consequently surface structure, especially in 19th-century England.
Frackers were "whistling past the graveyard" by denying that fracking caused earthquakes. They've essentially replicated the history of salt mining associations and corporations who destroyed homes and even towns in their rabid search for salt profits:
"Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky
"Extraction of Bastard Brine in Northwich":